Musicians with impairments exist

Miranda Trowbridge, News Writer

Ludwig van Beethoven was a famous composer who started to go deaf when he was 30 years old. By that time, he had already composed a couple of piano pieces, six string quartets, and his first symphony. When the soft smooth melodies became buzzing in his ear, his career as a musician was about to change.  

“For the last three years my hearing has grown steadily weaker…I have to get very close to the orchestra to understand the performers,” Beethoven said. Beethoven tried to hide his deafness from most of his friends and his audience (Classic FM, 2021).  

“If I belonged to any other profession is would be easier, but in my profession, it is a frightful state,” Beethoven said.  

Beethoven could still hear some music until 1812, but the high notes were like a ringing in his ear. By the age of 44 he went completely deaf, but this did not stop his career. In his later musical pieces, Beethoven began to write lower notes rather than notes that could make any dog howl along. In many scenarios, Beethoven was only imagining what the piece would sound like (classicfm, 2021). A musician who can’t hear is like an athlete who has lost their ability to walk.  

Band Director Michael Hanson at Elmwood/Murdock Public Schools in Nebraska also deals with impairment. Hanson is legally blind and has been since birth. He became interested in becoming a band director because he enjoyed playing the trumpet. His biggest obstacle is reading the music he plays.  

His vision is 75% lower than the normal 20/20 vision which means he has to lean in really close to the music to see it. If a person were to put their hand directly in front of their face, that is an accurate representation of how close Hanson has to get to the music.  

“Getting very close has been a workaround but that affects posture which affects tone and control,” Hanson said.  

He learned how to accurately play in tune himself by listening to other people and going through ear training. Through high school, he was allowed to use a monocular which is similar to binoculars except it only has one lens. This would allow him to read the music easier. At a college level; however, he was given no accommodations other than getting a ride to band events.  

“Musicians are expected to perform at a high level if they want to be musicians, I enlarge the music/print if it is feasible,” Hanson said.  

Many other musicians have gone through the struggle of playing an instrument despite having a disability to told them back. Rick Allen, the drummer for Def Leppard, is an example of this. Allen lost his arm and the drumming company Simmons made a new drum set for him so he would be able to drum with one arm (Matteo, 2014).  

These musicians overcame their obstacles whether being famous or not. “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us,” a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson.